What Is It Like Being A Father?
It seems strange to think of asking that question now, after being a father for almost 9 years. But if I think back, and were to be able to travel in time to ask myself this question before I actually became a parent, I would find it very difficult to think what my answer would be.
Before children, parenting was something I saw through the lens of my own childhood memories, or through the glimpses of friends who had children. The former is a hazy view of odd moments growing up and a general fuzzy feeling of how I loved my mum and dad. The latter glimpse is a distorted view of bubbly little beings you have to occupy in the middle of a café, restaurant or pub (of course, once you are a parent, this task takes on a whole new level of intensity!).
The Early Days Of Fatherhood
Becoming a father for the first time is initially about physical endurance. The feeding in the middle of the night and changing nappies. But as you hold your baby in the middle of the night, helping them drink from the bottle, there starts the moments when the entire universe comes down to simply being just the two of you. While, hopefully, your partner is getting some well-deserved sleep, you realise for the first time you are responsible for this little human being you are holding. Something that is no longer than your forearm. Defenceless and unknowing of the big wide world they have just entered.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think that deeply every time I was doing the 2am feed. Usually I was too knackered and just wanted the bottle to get emptied, there be no more crying, and only having to be a wet nappy to change (not the luminous biohazard it could be). Then I could get back to sleep.
But on the occasions I did have the mental faculties to be able to remember my own name, the size of the question of: What is it like being a father did begin to dawn on me.
So, what it is like being a father? It is amazing, tiring, awe inspiring, stressful, humbling, and an extra-dimensional discovery of love, life and joy.
Once you get past the endurance race of lack of sleep, frequent feeding and have developed the ability to stop the gag reflex upon opening a nappy that looks like the aftermath of a fight with a chicken vindaloo, one of the greatest aspects of parenthood that I find the most rewarding, is watching how this new life you helped create, develops.
I Cherish The Simple 'Firsts'
It is the ‘first moments’ I try to make sure I store in my parent memory box. And I don’t just mean the usual first moments: their first smile, first time eating solids, first time using the potty (although of course this does mean a distinct reduction in chicken vindaloo encounters) and first steps. Those moments are all important, but there are some aspect to them that are generic. All children, hopefully, pass those milestones.
It is the more personalised firsts that I will remember the most. The first time I read one of my favourite books from childhood (Thomas the Tank Engine, Dr Seuss’s Red Fish Blue Fish). The first time our daughter learnt to use the remote control. The first time our son made us laugh, knew what he had done, and so desperately wanted to repeat what he’d done to make us laugh again. Those moments are our moments, not just developmental goals to be accomplished.
The Difference Between Fatherhood And Motherhood
Interestingly, but sadly, a significant difference I notice between fatherhood and motherhood is when I hear my partner chatting with her friends. There is an empathic discussion on experiences and feelings. Even this far into the twenty-first century, I have participated in conversations with other fathers that inevitably descend into some sort of competitive escalation. It still seems fathers can’t fully open up about the uncertainties, doubts and concerns we have. An element of determining which child achieved these global targets first inevitably creeps into the conversation. God forbid you are the father amongst the group who’s child is not yet walking, talking or sampling full florets of broccoli yet. In these cases, and I have done this myself, there is the need to change the subject onto either work or sport, rather than discuss your new found fear there maybe something’s wrong with you or you son/daughter. “What am I doing wrong?”, “What do you think I should be doing better?” are simply not things you feel you can ask of another father, who are obviously supermen compared to you.
Getting The Work-Life Balance
Becoming a parent has also realigned my view of work. No longer am I simply working and earning to buy stuff. Now I am working and earning to provide a future. But this is a double-edged sword. If I work all hours. I earn a lot of money to provide for my children, but I won’t get to spend time with them. Yet, at the same time, being a parent is expensive. Work-Life balance takes on a whole new dimension.
I am fortunate that I can work from home and on some days I can pick the children up from school. It is just a ten-minute walk home, but those ten minutes are worth a mountain of gold. In a few minutes I get to know exactly how my children feel, what is important to them that day, what they have learnt, and who has made them happy and who has p*ssed them off (my words not theirs, of course).
Thinking back through the haze to my own childhood, it is those moments when my mum or dad were just, ‘there for me’ that I realise were the most important. And for those ten minutes I get to act as sounding board, comforter, and encourager for the events of the day. Not something I could as easily do learning everything during snatched excerpts at the weekend.
Walking home from school, is not of course happening at the moment. It would be impossible to write something now that doesn’t mention the huge, ever growing elephant in the world, Mr Covid-19. To date we have been lucky, we have not come face to face with the suffering of the dark curtain of infection that has been drawn across the globe. We have, hopefully, played our part though. We have locked down, and we continue to maintain social distancing to avoid being a link in the chain of any infection that could harm others.
Fatherhood In Lockdown
These times have meant we have all been living on top of each other all the time. The walk to or from school has been replaced by actually having to do schooling at home. It has also meant there has been no escape from each other. Quality time has become all the time. And, I will admit, sometimes too much of a good thing has become too much. There has been time when I, or my partner have needed some space, or our son and daughter have needed space from each other. We have tried to be aware when those times are needed and we have adjusted the daily routine of the house so that one of us gets the space we need. But, once those moment are over we have made sure we talk about the difficult times we as a family, and as a world are going through.
Without the ability to visit theme parks, restaurants, shops, friends and even the beach, the last few months have made us realise the importance of just being together. As a parent, any moment with your child is important, but something like the limitations of lockdown make you realise the significance of the simple moments together.
Fatherhood And Being A Writer
As a writer, when I my first book, Darkchapel, was published, available at all good Amazonian bookstores (mybook.to/darkchapel), I had a vision of what my future books would be like. When I became a parent, I began to think more deeply of the world I had brought new life into. We live in a complicated and far from perfect world, and I must admit I look at our children and occasionally get a sense of guilt of what this means to them. My writing has subsequently followed my thoughts and I have gone for deeper stories. Prophetically (and tragically) I came up with a story about a pandemic affecting the world, but it was not a simply disease like Covid-19, it was a deeper pandemic looking at the lack of truth we have in the modern world (growing excerpts here - https://www.wattpad.com/story/218871986-after-the-truth).
Even before Covid-19, the world was a complex place to be a parent and a growing child. Who knows how much more complex the world will be tomorrow?
The Joy Of Fatherhood Comes From The Simple Moments
So, for the question of, “What is it like being a father?”, the answer is still amazing, tiring, awe inspiring, stressful, humbling, and an extra-dimensional discovery of love, life and joy. But perhaps one thing the last few months have told me, is that a lot of the joy of being a parent comes from the simple moments together. The moments in which I connect and understand our children. With, the bonus that I get to be a bit of a kid again too. Getting down on the floor to play with my children and their toys, changes my perspective for a few moments. Who wouldn’t want to be a kid again?